Mindbending Sci-Fi Pits Free Will vs. Predestination
By Kam Williams
Sentinel Contributing Writer
During his brief lifetime, the prolific Philip K. Dick wrote dozens of science-fiction novels, plus well over a hundred short stories. And since his untimely death in 1982, ten of his works have been brought to the big screen, most notably, Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report.
The latest is The Adjustment Bureau, a surreal, psychological thriller co-starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. The movie is very loosely based on “Adjustment Team,” a short story published in 1954 which was more of a Cold War drama than a romantic romp revolving around a star-crossed couple.
In the original adventure, God dispatches disembodied spirits to Earth in order to ease East-West atomic tensions. But then something as simple as a dog’s failure to bark as scheduled sets in motion a destabilizing chain of events which threaten to destroy détente.
For an insurance salesman who failed to hear the hound leaves late for work and consequently shares something he witnesses with his wife. So, it subsequently falls to angels to intervene to ensure that all still unfolds in accordance with the desire of the Creator.
Directed by George Nolfi, The Adjustment Bureau, by contrast, is a revision which renders the source material unrecognizable except for its supernatural elements. Now, instead of being married to each other, the protagonists are an eligible bachelor and a beautiful ballerina who meet quite by coincidence in a men’s room at the Waldorf Astoria.
Just past the point of departure, we find David Norris (Damon) practicing his concession speech after losing a race for the U.S. Senate. When wedding crasher Elise Sellas (Blunt) sheepishly emerges from a stall, the two fall in love at first sight and proceed to lock lips until they’re interrupted by the Congressman’s Chief of Staff (Michael Kelly). Before separating, David takes her phone number, fully intending to call soon.
However, “The Chairman” has already prescribed a preordained life for him as a prominent politician, a path which definitely excludes Elise. Therefore, a dapper quartet of ethereal emissaries sporting felt fedoras are dispatched to the planet to prevent the pair from seeing each other again.
It takes a few years, but eventually, instead of a canine failing to howl, a lackadaisical angel (Anthony Mackie) falls asleep on a park bench. That allows the frustrated lovebirds another chance encounter which only serves to reignite their passion.
Following this incident, one of the guys in the funny hats introduces himself to David as his “case officer.” Archangel Richardson (John Slattery) goes on to explain the function of the Adjustment Bureau as enforcers of God’s master plan. He warns David not to pursue a relationship with Elise and that a failure to behave accordingly will result in a lobotomy and a reprogramming.
David, not surprisingly, remains determined to follow his heart, and what ensues is a special effects-driven game of cat-and mouse pitting a pair of hopelessly-smitten humans against an army of angels with an array of supernatural forces at their disposal. Thus, the picture poses the basic question: Which would win in a battle between free will and predestination?
Given that this flick is essentially an old-fashioned, Hollywood love story, it’s easy to guess how the tale will turn out. Damon and Blunt certainly generate plenty of chemistry along the way as they elude their captors by dashing in and out of a dizzying number of parallel universes.
Unfortunately, their screen appeal is undermined slightly by the leap of faith the audience is expected to take by buying into a concatenation of patently-ludicrous, sci-fi contrivances employed to confound the Lord and his minions. An entertaining, if blasphemous mindbender suggesting that love conquers all, even the will of God.
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, brief profanity and a violent image.
Running time: 99 Minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures